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The Eye Clinic at the Good Samaritan Health Clinic

Added on Friday, February 17, 2017

In 2006, Dr. James Garrity was at a reception with his good friend, Celeste Forbes, and she said to him, “You should start an eye clinic at The Salvation Army.”

What started as an idea has now blossomed into reality.

On the third Tuesday of every month, Dr. Garrity and his team of volunteer ophthalmologists serve waves of people in Rochester who are in need of eye care. The clinic that started from conversation has now been operational for an entire decade.

“This program started off with a budget of nothing. Everything we have, we have because of generous donations and amazing volunteers,” said Dr. Garrity. “We even have one volunteer who has been with us from the beginning that drives in from Austin to work every day at Mayo, and then comes to volunteer at the eye clinic after work for sometimes another four hours before driving back home.”

Clinic operations

In order to keep the atmosphere light and fun throughout the day, Dr. Garrity has nicknamed the clinic’s volunteers.

When asked what his nickname was, one of his volunteers readily said, “Dr. Hilarity.” Many of his volunteers are ophthalmic technicians along with medical students and residents at the Mayo Clinic interested in ophthalmology. Dr. Garrity said the clinic’s volunteers are so motivated that they rarely struggle to find people to help run the clinic.

“It’s really cool to learn while putting in community service hours,” said volunteer Nia Sathiamoorthi. (pictured right, center) Nia, eye clinic volunteer

Dr. Garrity and his volunteer staff at the Good Samaritan Health Clinic served approximately 110 patients in need of eye care or glasses in 2016. They also dispensed 70 pairs of glasses, performed 96 refractions tests, and saw 32 referrals from the Good Samaritan Medical Clinic. The Eye Clinic sees patients with various needs, from those that just need reading glasses to others with advanced cataracts and glaucoma. Dr. Garrity said 10 percent of his patients last year were children, and another third had eye troubles caused by diabetes or high blood pressure.

“It is an understatement to say that we provide a vital function in the community,” explained Dr. Garrity. “We are the safety net.”

Stories of success

Dr. Garrity can recall three cases that illustrate how important the Eye Clinic is to the community:

  • An extremely near-sighted man who had been living under a bridge walked into the clinic one day. The man broke his glasses and started wearing contacts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He didn’t remove them for a month, leaving his eyes dangerously red and irritated. The clinic was able to get him a new pair of glasses.
  • A far-sighted man who also broke his glasses. He had the thick coke-bottle like glasses that used to be common after cataract surgery many years ago. The clinic was able to provide him with a new pair of glasses.
  • A woman walked into the clinic, led by a family member. She had cataracts in her eyes that were so dense, her eyes appeared milky white and she could hardly see. By the end of her time at the eye clinic, she had 20/20 vision, and was able to walk around again without assistance.

How you can help

An optical company donates frames and blank lenses to the clinic, which volunteer opticians grind into the correct prescription. Unfortunately, the equipment at the clinic is outdated and more modern equipment is needed. A donation of updated technology would help the clinic treat patients more thoroughly, efficiently, and effectively than if it were to continue using the outdated systems of care.

To inquire about donating to the clinic or to make an appointment, please call 507-529-4100.

“Dr. Garity is a great motivator,” said Julio Vega, eye clinic volunteer. “You are always going to learn something new when you work with him.” But Dr. Garrity continues to attribute the success of the Eye Clinic to the happy go lucky attitude of his volunteers.

“This place just wouldn’t work without them.” he smiled.

The Good Samaritan Eye Clinic is open every third Tuesday of the month from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, please call 507-529-4100.